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Cross-cultural Listening

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Welcome to Wisdomfest! Over the next five weeks, we will be studying the subject of racism, and we’ve tried to limit our objectives to three things. At the end of this series, if we could learn to listen, if we could know what lament really is and actually do it, and then by the power of the Spirit of God truly love, that would be huge. That would be what I would envision just producing tons of fruit for the glory of God.

So today our objective is pretty simple, right? To learn to listen. Can we do that? You guys don’t seem too confident. Maybe I need to back up. Even if all of us went from here on the listening meter to here where we learn to listen first of all to God and to one another, and we grew in our capacity to listen and learn from one another even a small amount, I believe that would be a miracle of God. Because left to ourselves we are not swift to hear. We are swift to talk, we assume the worst, and it produces – even when you begin to talk about something really important like the subject we’re talking about without the proper posture, we can actually do more damage than good. Is that not true?

So, that’s why I know a lot of what I say today may even raise more questions than I answer. But we’re aiming for this first objective, that we could grow in our capacity to listen. Paul says in Philippians 4:5, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” Paul is calling all of us who name the name of Christ to a universally distributed reasonableness. A reasonableness that is made known to everyone, not just our friends, not just people we agree with, to everyone. Now one of the biggest challenges with this word (reasonableness) is it’s so difficult to translate. Part of the reason is the Greek word has such a wide range of meaning, and it’s hard to find one English word that captures that. So, let me just give you a couple ideas that are embedded in this word that might not come out depending on what word you use to translate it.

First, there’s an open-mindedness there, an intellectual graciousness. Reasonable, you see the root of that is trying to get at that open mindedness, that reason idea. But when I say reasonable or this translation is reasonable, we don’t mean gullible nor do we mean so open to everything that were closed to truth. It’s not what it’s talking about. it’s not talking about becoming conviction-less. Not at all. But it is talking about getting unstuck from intellectual ruts that we need to be unstuck from. It’s talking about being able to put yourself in another person’s place and even understand their argument from their perspective even if you disagree. Is that not difficult?

It means actually applying the 5% rule. This is life changing. You can disagree with someone 95%, and if you can latch onto that 5% and approach that conversation from “I have something I can learn here,” that’s a miracle. That will change your marriage by the way. That will change your conversations with friends. If you can approach conversations – most of us where do we get locked down? The 95%. We’re done. Or even if it’s 5%, I disagree. We’re done.

This this idea of being reasonable, “let your reasonableness be known to everyone,” it doesn’t mean you’re not going to discuss or differ on the 95%, all of that is beautiful. But having an approach that says “Wow, I have something I can learn from you, and I’m eager to get what God has for me in this conversation.” Open mindedness.

Secondly, gentleness. This word communicates not just an open mindedness as you approach the conversation but a gentleness, a relational humility. You’re not coercive, you’re not manipulative, you’re not using this conversation to secretly accomplish a different agenda than the one you say. That’s why this word is often translated courteous or willing to yield. Jesus is described with this word in 2 Corinthians 10:1 as having a meekness and gentleness. So, if you think “No no no, gentleness is a lack of conviction. If I have convictions as a Christian, I can’t have room for gentleness because otherwise I am compromising.” Well then, you’re more spiritual than Jesus because He is described as meek and gentle.

Third aspect, this word has a time element to it which we could describe as steadfastness, a patient endurance. The idea is we’re not reactive. Aristotle used this word describing a person as willing to suffer loss or continue to be unjustly treated.

So, it’s impossible to find one word that translates this. The closest I can come up with is graciousness, which isn’t much better than reasonableness, but it’s assuming the best, giving someone the benefit of the doubt. The context, if we expand the context of this command in Philippians 4:5, you will notice it is embedded in a context of conflict. Look at verse 2.

“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

So, when Paul gives this command, he is envisioning an actual conflict occurring between two people who name the name of Christ but cannot agree. And he’s asking this true companion, which could be actually a real name (syzygus is the Greek for that), could be an actual person or could be referring to Timothy or another companion of Paul’s. Please help these women. They’ve labored with me. They love Jesus, but they cannot come together and agree.

How do we overcome this lack of agreement so that we can actually let our reasonableness be known to everyone? Well if you look at the most immediate context you will see some clues. Verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord.”

First, your joy is in Jesus. When Paul talks about rejoicing in the Lord (and I know we’re starting on the inside and we’re working our way out, so hang with me,) he’s not just saying smile more often. That’s not it. He’s talking about the source of your stabilizing joy. We talked about this last week. The source of your joy is not your race or your ethnicity or your culture or your performance. Paul just covered that in chapter 3.

Remember he began 3:1, “Rejoice in the Lord,” and then he went on to describe “I could be tempted to rejoice in my ethnic accomplishments” and he lists them in chapter 3. I’m a Hebrew of Hebrews. I was circumcised on the eighth day, of all of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee of Pharisees. You want to talk credentials? I can hang with you (which by the way is a really important point). It’s not wrong to be aware of and in one sense appreciate our ethnic identities. It’s a beautiful thing. Paul rattled those off without thinking about it. But then he goes on to say, “But I count all these things as refuse, refuse, dung, garbage compared to knowing Jesus Christ.” My identity, you want to know who I really am at the core? It is not found in all these things. It is found in Jesus Christ. So, when Paul says rejoice in the Lord, that’s what he’s talking about. He’s talking about, where do you go to really know who you are? And that’s going to shape how you respond.

Let me give a quick positive example of this. A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who is a doctor in a prison, so he cares for prisoners all day. He was leaving the prison, and if you’ve ever been in prison you know you go through a series of holding cells. So, you get let out of one and you’re waiting in another, that door closes, the next door hasn’t opened yet. Somebody is watching you on a screen. You’re asking the guard, please open the door. And the guard wouldn’t open the door. So, he sat in this holding cell for a while. He has an over two-hour drive to get home every day to get to and from work. He wants to get home to his wife and kids, and the guard won’t unlock the door. Finally, he does. This happened several times.

My friend is a Black doctor, and the guard apparently won’t believe that he’s a doctor and open the door. So, my friend went through this several times. And this is what was amazing as he was describing it. This is recent as he was describing this happening. It became quite apparent that it wasn’t just a communication breakdown. There were some huge racist assumptions going on. But the way he responded as he was describing this, as he then went to the warden and basically said, “Listen, you have got to deal with this. Your guards are racist. You have a black doctor. I’m here to treat the prisoners. I don’t want to stay. But as he was describing this in what he did, and I can’t give you all the details now, but it was just amazing how rooted and grounded he is. That did not change at all. Who he is and what he was called there to do as a follower of Jesus Christ.

When your identity is in Christ, it changes the way you respond to inequities. It doesn’t mean you ignore them. That had to be dealt with. And it has been. It’s not right to just ignore them. But in that case, it didn’t change who he is and who he is in Jesus. That’s what Paul is talking about. Rejoice in the Lord your joys in Jesus. And that allows you to respond reasonably. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.

Secondly, verse 4 goes on to say “Rejoice in the Lord” when? Always. So, your response is not circumstantially induced or dependent. If we were to step back, and years ago we went through the whole book of Philippians, and we learned that the message of Philippians is together on mission. The book starts in 1:5 with thanking God for their partnership and the gospel. Grateful for the partnership in the gospel. It is an entire book about joy in suffering because of partnership in the gospel. But the book is also teeming with examples of the challenges to this partnership and the gospel.

For example, turn to Philippians 1:27,

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.”

Paul is calling them to stay firm together. One spirit, one mind striving side by side. And he’s acknowledging that when you are in the midst of a fallen world where you suffer, you will be tempted by the enemy to turn on each other. To stampede is the word that’s used there. To panic to startle, and fear fuels a wrong response that causes us to further the division between us.

He goes on to say in 2:1,

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of one mind, having the same love being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.”

You say Paul, that’s impossible. People can’t do that. How can we do that? Verse 5, “Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus.” I love that. Do this because this is who you are in Christ Jesus, not just that he did it and gave us an example that we need to somehow try to reach. Yes, he did give us an example, but he fuels that. This is who we are in Jesus. We are one, so let’s act that way.

Rejoice in the Lord always. And the only way we can do that is because our response to one another is not grounded in what circumstances are occurring but who we are in Jesus as one people.

Finally, look at the final clue right in the immediate context that tells us how our response to inequity, to suffering can be a reasonable response. Verse 5, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.” Your hope is in Jesus’ coming. The Lord is at hand, and that statement “at hand” could be translated temporally which means in time “coming soon” referring to the second coming, or spatially “he has come near” referring to the first coming. I believe it’s referring to both because Jesus has come, and he is coming. He will never leave you nor forsake you, and he is, his coming is near and because of that, the presence of Christ enables us to graciously give people the benefit of the doubt.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. Then he goes off into verse 6 and following, “Don’t be anxious, but pray.”

So, why is this response of letting our reasonableness be known to everyone so difficult especially when there are cultural and ethnic and racial differences? We can talk about this from so many different perspectives. This week, I was chucking pages and pages things I wanted to cover, so I’m going to try to limit it to one, and that is culturally. We’ll talk about history, we’ll talk about some other things in the weeks to come. But why is this particularly difficult in this area?

Our cultural assumptions are hard for us to see and talk about. Why? Well, we have to go to the core, and the core of us biblically is our hearts. Our hearts are our control centers where we think and where we feel and where we choose. And Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Psalm 19:12, “Who can discern his own [it’s what he’s talking about] his own errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.” Now why are hidden faults so hard to see? Yeah, they’re by definition hidden. And Derek Kidner points out “The fault may be hidden not because it is too small to see, but because it is too characteristic to register.” Isn’t that so true?

I am so used to living with me that there are things about me that I cannot see. But you see, and the people in your life they know things about you that you are probably blind to or unwilling to see. This heart blindness is reinforced by the cultures we live in. The simplest biblical definition of culture is the cultivation of creation, the cultivation of creation. Genesis 1:28 we’re commanded to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, subdue it have dominion, all of that is “go cultivate creation. What I’ve made, you make something of it. Psalm 104:28 “When you give it to them [this is a prayer to God] When you give it to them, they gather it up.”

That’s culture. God gives, we what, we gather. God alone creates everything. But whenever you take something in creation and make it something, you are doing culture. When you take ingredients and make it a meal, when you take parts of metal and turn it into a car, when you take notes and make music, you take letters and make words or novels, you take colors and make art. You are doing culture.

So, a more comprehensive definition of culture is shared meaning expressed through patterns, symbols and artifacts, experienced in a particular environment.Symbols are ways of saying things, communicating – language, stories are all part of that. Artifacts are the products that embody the culture. Those are actual things we make – artifacts.

The thing that most people leave out when they talk about culture is the environment because all of those things are happening within that particular environment. That environment may refer to political, institutional or spiritual forces that greatly shape that culture. Why is this so important to understand? Because all of us live in and do culture every day.

One of the definitions of a Christian is we look at all of culture through the lens of the gospel. What do we mean gospel? We’re talking about the big gospel story which could be summarized in four words – creation, fall, redemption, restoration. That God created all things beautiful. There was no rift between creator and creation. There was no vertical conflict or horizontal division between any creature. He made it. Shalom, whole, beautiful, right, the way it was supposed to be. Sin entered what we call the fall, and immediately there is a rift between Creator and creation. And that rift has horizontal implications. We turn on each other. Creation itself, all creation is affected.

God could have just hit the redo button and wiped out his creation and started over, but he didn’t. He sent his Son in redemption to not just to judge or condemn, but as the Prince of Peace to reconcile all things to himself through his cross. Death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And so, there is a “now but not yet” sense that we live in. He has died, was buried and rose from the dead, defeating evil, but he has not yet reconciled all things or restored all things completely. So Christian, this has huge ramifications for the way we look at culture because we now look at culture as something that is both beautiful and broken. Beautiful because it’s made by God, and there’s a reflection of him in everything that he created. Broken because sin has entered in and there is fallen-ness, division to all. Now why is that so important? Here’s why.

Is Southern culture good or bad?  Yes. It’s beautiful, and it’s broken. Is northern culture, western culture, Asian culture, African-American culture good or bad? All of our cultures, both cultures and subcultures, are beautiful and broken. Do you see the implications of that? If we really grasped that, we could let our reasonableness be known to everyone because we know we don’t have a perfect culture.

Don’t misunderstand. This doesn’t mean that every aspect of every culture is equally good or bad. That’s not what I’m saying. But there is good and bad, beautiful-ness and brokenness within every culture. So, that gives me a posture that removes the defensiveness when I enter into a conversation with someone that comes from a very different perspective because I want to learn. I want to see what I can’t see, and this is especially hard for people who live in a majority culture.

This is true all around the world. You get on a plane this afternoon and you fly to Japan, when you get off the plane and you’re there for an hour, you’re going to know what it means not to be the majority in a culture. Tt will be quite apparent. They do things different here. They have a different word for everything. You’re going to suddenly realize.

But as long as you’re within your own, especially if you’re a majority member of a culture, like a Japanese person doesn’t think every day of what it means to be Japanese. Right? It’s like a fish in water. That’s just the way it is. This is really important to understand when you have a context that has a diversity of subcultures within that culture. Those as a part of the majority culture can assume it’s just the way it is. And we can miss what God has for us to learn.

Lately there have been a flood of books on what is called now white culture. A few months ago, I read one called White Awake by Daniel Hill subtitled an honest look at what it means to be white. I always struggle with that mainly because I’m not really white. This is white. I’m kind of beige-ish. …Let’s not get lost on that.

In the book, Daniel described an experience he had at a friend’s wedding. His friend was of South Asian Indian descent and he described the wedding as a deep dive into Indian culture. And if you’ve ever been to an Indian wedding, they’re amazing – colorful dance, amazing food, beautiful dress. And at the end of this wedding he said to his friend this. Daniel says to his Indian friend,

“I’m jealous of you. You have such an amazing culture. It must be such a privilege to reflect that beautiful culture during your wedding weekend. I wish I had a culture too.”

Well of course his friend looked at him like he was a doofus. You do have a culture and as a matter of fact your culture dominates everything it comes in contact with, so you need to get in touch with your culture. And the book is full of what I would call, and I’ve interacted with the author on this, but good and bad. The good part is it is again hugely helpful to grow in self-awareness, a good kind of self-awareness, to be aware of your culture and to see the things that you don’t normally see. And that part is great. That’s what Paul is talking about., one of the things he’s talking about. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The part I struggle with is this emphasis on white culture can continue to reinforce the myth of race. What do I mean by that? John Perkins in his new book One Blood explains.

“Whiteness, it turns out, is a very recent idea in the grand scheme of history.”

So, let’s stop there for a second. What does he mean by that? Well if you go back to the beginning of our country there was no thing as white. You might be British or Irish or African or you know a host of other descriptions – French, German. But as our country grew and became more solidified, slavery became more solidified in order to justify binding and selling and humiliating a group of people, more and more you have this category called black and white, and it quickly became not about ethnicity or nationality but color which is determined, as he goes on to say,

“…this grand scheme of history, but it’s a powerful one that was used to create categories and systems that would place value, economically and otherwise, on skin color and the groups of people who are either blessed or burdened by it. If race could be used to indicate a group’s level of intelligence, its work ethic, and its tendency to do wrong, then the majority culture could justify all types of bigotries and discriminations.”

Much to our shame there were many people who would name the name of Christ and use Bible verses to try to legitimize this. But Perkins goes on to quote one of his former students Dave Unander in his book Shattering the Myth of Race. He’s a professor of biology at Eastern University who says this.

“There is only the human race, from every perspective: biological, historical, and in God’s Word, the Bible. For the past 500 years Western society has been playing out a role in a drama written by the Enemy of our souls, the myth of the master race, and every act has been a tragedy. It’s time to change the script.”

Do you feel the tension? Here is the tension, and this is one of the things that makes it so hard to let our reasonableness be known to everyone when discussing this issue because we need to talk candidly and honestly about the past, and we need to see the suppression of truth and the bondage of people that has been systemic and intentional and even legalized by government for centuries. The repercussions of that are huge in our country. So, we need to be able to talk candidly about that. But at the same time, we need to find a way to do that which doesn’t just perpetuate it.

Many of us who have been seeing this unfold for many decades and have had a burden to see it change, it gets really disheartening when the solutions seem to actually perpetuate the problem. We could go shooting off into a big discussion of critical race theory and intersectionality and all these things that our young people are being brainwashed with in our higher education institutions, which can describe the past accurately even in some of the repercussions today but actually guarantee that it will never change. It’s a dead end.

It’s like John Perkins said in that video two weeks ago. If we keep depending on the ideas that derive from man’s mind we will guarantee that we’re not going to solve the problem.

So, what is the point? The point is not that we’re all the same culturally. Actually, we’re not, and that’s beautiful. In one sense it’s wrong to be colorblind because God designed us to be beautifully different, and we need to be able to celebrate that and not be in the negative sense color blind. But it’s also wrong to be color bound, and that is to be defined primarily by race or ethnicity in a way that divides us as the people of God or people made in the image of God. Galatians 3:28,

“There is neither Jew nor Greek … slave nor free … male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

That’s our hope. I hope we will see that unfold as we go through this series. So, rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.

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